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By Tom Palen 

Tom VS. Tom


November 5, 2022

Just the Other Day by, Tom Palen

The trouble all started at Roseau Hardware: an Ace Hardware store in the small town of Roseau.

Roseau is in north-western Minnesota, on the Canadian border. Melissa's great-grandfather and great-grandmother homesteaded near Roseau in the early 1900s. Her grandfather was born there in 1914. We've traveled to that area a few times to research and learn more about her ancestors.

We were camping in Roseau. The campground was very wet, and I needed a new mat to lay in front of the Scamp door so we wouldn't drag mud into the camper. (We learned later that Roseau had three inches of rain that morning before we had arrived.)

I stopped at Geroy's Home and Appliance on the main highway. The people were accommodating. They had a small piece of green Astro-turf about twice the size I needed. They gave me a great price if I wanted to take the whole remnant, so I did. Then, I started for the campsite with the carpet in my van.

Just a few blocks back, on Highway 11, I saw a hardware store on the same side of the road. I decided to go back. I had chicken hindquarters to cook over the fire for dinner, but all the firewood at the campground was wet from the rain. If I bought a bag of charcoal and a bottle of lighter fluid, I could cook the chicken on the old fashion BBQ grill mounted on a steel post in our campsite. Besides, I needed a roll of paper towels for the camper. I pulled into the parking lot.

Roseau is a small town with a population of around 2,700 people. They are the headquarters for Polaris snowmobiles and several other industries. In addition, the town has a very impressive retail community with car dealerships, at least two hardware stores, two tractor supply stores, a dollar store, a grocery store, convenience stores, and a trading post – all kinds of places that would sell charcoal.

Of all the places to buy charcoal in Roseau, I had to step into this joint; Roseau Ace Hardware. That's where the trouble all started.

The staff was friendly and immediately greeted me when I walked into the building. I swear, that store has everything; a guy could easily get lost in there. A gal named Sabrina took me right to the charcoal. I picked up a ten-pound bag and a bottle of lighter fluid, then headed for the register. I suppose everything would have been okay if I had just kept walking to the checkout counter. But, on the way, I passed a cooler full of Frost Top soda.

There was root beer, orange crème soda, and several other flavors. Still, the one that caught my eye was the deep purple Premium Grape Soda. I just had to have one. So with a bag of charcoal under my left arm and a bottle of lighter fluid in my left hand, I opened the cooler and grabbed an ice-cold twenty-ounce bottle of that purple elixir with my right hand. I paid at the register and headed for the van.

While fumbling with the keys to open the back doors, I dropped my bottle of soda. Fortunately, it was a plastic bottle and did not break, but it did roll under the van. I put the charcoal in the van, then got on my hands and knees to retrieve my grape soda from the driver's side.

A lady was sitting in the car parked next to me. She seemed amused, watching as I climbed under my vehicle with my rump in the air. Finally, I stood up, brushed off my jeans, then held the bottle to show her. "I dropped my grape soda," I explained. She nodded and smiled, and I climbed into the driver's seat. I couldn't wait to open that bottle, but maybe I should have.

When I twisted the cap open, it exploded. Grape soda sprayed everywhere like a bottle of champagne on New Year's Eve. It was all over me, the dashboard, the seats, the steering wheel, and the 6

paper towel and headed to the register. I probably would have been okay from there if I had just kept walking to the checkout counter. But there it was in front of me; how could I resist? A popcorn machine with free popcorn.

A soft yellow bulb glowed on the golden salty treat inside the clear glass display walls. Mmm. I had to have some, and the popcorn would go great with my grape soda - well, at least what remained of my beverage. But wait – there's more.

"What have we here?" I picked up a small container on top of the popcorn machine. "Grandpa Tom's Cowboy Spice?" I sprinkled a little into the palm of my hand. "That's pretty good," I said. Then I picked up Grandpa Tom's Jalapeno Pepper Spice and sampled it. "That's really good," I said. "It has a nice kick." But then I saw Grandpa Tom's Sweet Smoked Chipotle Spice and tried a taste. "Wow! That's the best," I said. It was similar to my Tom's Secret Chicken Rub, which I make at home.

I looked at the side of the bottle, "For beef, pork, chicken, fish, and wild game." My eyes lit up. "Chicken?" I had chicken hindquarters waiting at the camper, but I had forgotten my chicken rub at the house. The spice was very similar to my rub, a recipe I've kept as secret as the Colonel's eleven herbs and spices.

"Who is this Grandpa Tom," I wondered, "and where did he get my Secret Chicken Rub recipe?" I tasted the product again. Then I read on the side of the bottle, "They make this seasoning at 610 3rd Ave, NE, right here in Roseau?" I looked up and down the aisle. No one was looking, so I sprinkled a little more into the palm of my hand, then tasted the spice one more time. I then went to the display and picked up a bottle. I carried the spice and my paper towel to the register.

Back at the campsite, I seasoned my chicken. I grilled the legs and thighs very slowly, and they came out fantastic! "I thought you forgot your chicken rub at home," Melissa questioned.

"Oh, this is just something I picked up at the hardware store," I explained.

"It's very good," she said. "It tastes a lot like yours."

Hmph. "It's alright," I said nonchalantly. I was worried my wife might like Grandpa Tom's seasoning better than mine.

Back home, I made chicken on the grill several times, alternating between my Secret Chicken Rub and Grandpa Tom's. My wife never could tell which was which. A showdown was imminent. Then one day, I was at Zup's Foods. "Chicken hindquarters $1.09 per pound?" That was a good price. "It's time," I said with an evil laugh. "Bring out your best, Grandpa Tom; show me whatcha got!"

In my kitchen, I kept hearing fiddle music. The Charlie Daniels Band, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, repeatedly played in my head while I carefully seasoned the chicken. I was sure to keep them separated and cautious about spreading an equal amount of each spice on the meat to make it fair. Finally, I wrapped the chicken in separate bags and placed them in the refrigerator to marinate overnight. "The stage is set. Tomorrow is the day."

I laid the two bags out on the counter about twenty minutes early, letting them come to room temperature while the Weber Grill warmed up. Then, at precisely 2:00 pm, I put the hindquarters on the hot grill to sear; Grandpa Tom's on the left, Tom's Secret Chicken Rub on the right. I turned them at the exact same time until I had them grilled to perfection. Honestly, they all looked the same – delicious.

I pushed toothpicks into the chicken with Grandpa Tom's spice to know which was which. Then, I called Melissa to the dinner table, giving her pieces of each. "Which do you like better," I questioned. I suspected she would pick my spice, hands down.

"I like this one better," she said, pointing to my drumstick. "No, wait. I like the one with the toothpick better." I made no facial expression. "No, the one without the toothpick, no with the toothpick." She kept changing her mind, "Heck, I don't know! They taste the same if you want to know the truth. I like them both." Then she looked at the two bottles. "Grandpa Tom's has a fancier label,"

Hmph. "Well, it's what's on the inside that matters," I said. "Besides, Grandpa Tom probably has a marketing department to help him." Then I muttered, "I have a more attractive chicken on my label."

After lunch, I got on the computer and typed into a search engine, "Companies that design chicken spice labels..."

Until such a time as I market my new product, "Papa Tom's Secret Chicken Rub," you might want to try the other guy's spice. It is very good.

You can order online or buy it at Roseau Ace Hardware while you're in Roseau. It's a fun town to visit and the home of Polaris snowmobiles and Grandpa Tom's Spices, too. (I recommend the Sweet Smoked Chipotle!)


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